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Culture

Academics Delve Into Moscow Archives

After a two year delay, the German Historical Institute opened in Moscow on Monday. The Russian authorities had been reluctant to give the Germans access to sensitive information.

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The new institute may have easier access to the KGB archive


Composed primarily of a library, the German Historical Institute's German and Russian scholars aim is to work together with universities and scholars to explore Russo-German history.

Having Russians on the team will help reassure both local authorities and the public that the institute doesn't aim to propagate a strictly "western" view of historical events, explained the institute's director, Bernd Bonwetsch from the University of Bochum. Thanks to the Russian scholars, the institute may also have an easier time gaining access to foreign ministry and secret service archives.

German sponsors -- the Krupp Foundation and the Zeit Publishing Company -- have granted the Historical Institute around 5 million euros ($6 million) to cover administrative costs over the next five years, after which the German government will fund the institute.

Geman history around the world

Such state sponsorship goes back a long way. The first German historical institute was founded in Rome in 1888, when the Vatican granted Germany access to their archives. In later years, similar branches were formed in Paris (1958), London (1975), Washington (1987) and Warsaw (1993).

"Germany has played a significant roll in Russian culture and scholarship for centuries," stressed history professor Viktor Ishchenko. "The same goes for Russian influence on Germany. Therefore, the task is to form a complete historical picture of both Germans in Russia as well as the Russians in Germany including inward and outward population immigrations."

Diplomatic status denied

The grand opening of the Moscow institute was initially slated for 2003, but, according to German media reports, was continually held up by bureaucratic red tape. In addition, the German organizers had tried to secure diplomatic status for the institute's employees. According to Bonwetsch this status, typically granted to other institutions such as the Goethe Institute, is simply a matter of procedure. Still, the Russian authorities ultimately denied the request.

The final sticking point was the comprehensive administrative reforms Russia was engaged in, prior to which the Russian authorities would not provide the accreditation required for the institute to function. "As soon as these institutional barriers were overcome, the remainder of the process actually went so fast that we were barely able to keep abreast of the paperwork," Bonwetsch said.

Though the Historical Institute is located within the INION Institute at the Russian Academy of Science, it's not affiliated with any of Moscow's universities or scholarly institute's in order to preserve its independence, Bonwetsch said

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